Title: I'm Not Myself Today
Challenge: fanfic50 (at) LJ
Prompt: 45. Morph
Summary: [AU-Heart, **Major Spoilers for Truth End**] Alice Liddell, catatonic victim of manic depression. Nightmare Gottshalk, hemophiliac, roommate, and inpatient extraordinaire. This is how the dream ends
Author Notes: Meant to be a canonical 'What if'. The result of a combination of ponderings including A) the question of what remains of Alice's body in her 'former world' if Wonderland is the result of her being pulled into dreams B) the idea that Wonderland creates itself around her perceptions and C) 'Dreams are terrifying because there's an end'.
Other Notes: Yes, AU. I know, it's weird for me too. I really have no idea where the bulk of this came from. It just was. (Right in the middle while I was trying to play Omochabako, no less.) And then it wouldn't-stop-going. Medical know-whatsis pulled outta nowhere and/or mayoclinic, wiki, and other medical sites. Expect a Part Two to follow shortly. Spelling, grammar typos probably out the wazoo so feel free to point them out if you see them. And.. yesh, I forgot how annoying FF's posting is. Anything weird format-y I blame on them.
. o . o . o . o . o . o .
A variation of schizophrenia characterized by alternating episodes of a coma-like daze, wherein the patient loses touch with reality – unable to move, unable to respond, unable to speak – and outbreaks of bizarre, hyperactivity as the afflicted is caught in a waking dream of delusion.
. o . o . o . o . o . o .
Night 'Nightmare' Gottschalk was lounging discontentedly in his hospital bed when they brought the girl in. She was no more than 16, maybe 17, dressed in the characteristically shapeless, green gown sported by inpatients of St. Clover Mercy Medical, and utterly, utterly still. Her long, honey-colored hair parted messily over her face in a way that gave him the barest glimpse deadened aqua eyes before the orderlies hurriedly wheeled her to the bed across from his, tucked her in, and drew the curtain, thus ending his entertainment for the day.
He shrugged, winced at the pull of his IV drip, and lay back down to go to sleep.
It wasn't his business anyway.
- . - . - . -
Her name was Alice.
Nightmare found this out from a brief, surreptitious, glance at the files stuffed to the point of overflowing in the slot at the foot of the girl's bed and from the way her younger sister screamed it, frustrated to tears, at her bedside. Their father seemingly only interested for appearances sake as he politely ushered the distraught younger girl away. Leaving the nursing staff cooing sympathies for the poor wee, little girl and the poor widower and their poor, poor ill daughter in their wake.
His position, in the bed across the room, had been largely ignored in all the fuss. Nightmare sniffed indignantly
Alice hadn't even blinked.
- . - . - . -
"Catatonic Schizophrenia. She was found collapsed in her family's garden." Dr. Julius Monrey commented mildly while making his usual rounds of exams. Poking and prodding in ways that were, in Nightmare's humble opinion, far rougher than necessary as he spoke. "As far as I can tell from what information I've been given, her older sister's death took her over the edge – Look to the right-"
"She's suicidal?" Nightmare did so, right eye squinting against the sudden glare of the penlight.
"Not from what we've observed... thank God for small miracles." Muttering darkly to himself, Julius shifted the penlight slightly before ordering. "Look left."
"It goes deeper than that, Caterpillar. But, yes." Crossing his arms contrarily at his ever, bundled up patient, the doctor snorted softly in derision. "You on the other hand appear to be doing surprisingly well, all things considered. Keep the eye patch on for at least another week or so. And if you pull out that IV drip one more time..."
"I didn't pull it out, it slipped." He tipped his nose up with a superior sniff. "Isn't it time to take me off it anyway? I'm important, remember? I have better things to do than sitting around here in a hospital bed."
"You say that as if I don't have better things to do than treating you. There's a reason the nurses wrote 'Nightmare' on your charts, you know." Julius said gruffly, tone hardening in an unspoken threat of what would happen if Nightmare didn't behave himself this time. Once certain that Nightmare was appropriately cowed, the doctor finished up with the barest of smirks. "One week. And I'll give a call to the Skink to let him know you're well enough for paperwork."
"Urp..." Slouching against the cheap, hospital pillow that came with his bed, Nightmare gave a weak, sickly cough into his handkerchief. "...That's playing dirty, Clockmaker."
The small smirk grew into a fully fledged one, lasting for one, brief, smug moment before the doctor's eyes caught sight of the second patient in the room, still and silent as ever. His expression fell back to carefully maintained neutrality. "...If people were as easy to fix as clocks, I'd wouldn't be here, Caterpillar."
Suppressing another cough, Nightmare followed his gaze, repeating softly. "Catatonic Schizophrenia, you said?"
"She stopped wanting to live in this world so she made a new one." Julius' voice hit a flat note, brows drawing together in a frown.
"That's not such a bad thing, is it? Living in a dream? No responsibilities?" Nightmare mused out loud. "At the very least I wouldn't be stuck in the hospital like-"
Julius gave a deep frustrated sigh, breath hissing between his teeth as he adjusted the spectacles balanced on the bridge of his nose. He fixed Nightmare with a sharp stare, trailing off pointedly. "If anything happens..."
"I know where the call-button is." Pulling his blanket tighter around himself, Nightmare wiggled, getting as comfortable as his lumpy bedding would allow before settling back down for a nap. He waved a hand dismissively.
"Then keep it in mind." The doctor stressed seriously. "Because she won't be aware enough to push it."
- . - . - . -
On the third night, she woke up screaming. The sound of it jerking him violently from his slumber as she thrashed spasmodically on her hospital bed. A nonsensical stream of gibberish spilling from her lips as she gave a heart-wrenching sob, limbs flailing violently in a futile attempt to ward off whatever it was that scared her so.
Nightmare considered the IV at his wrist only briefly.
"Alice?" It took ten steps to cross the room. Two more to place himself at her bedside. Hands hovering tentatively over her, uncertain as to what exactly he should do, Nightmare tried to shake her from her night terrors as best he could. "Alice, wake up. You're dreaming."
It was a while longer before he could make heads or tails of what she was saying, and understanding just broke his heart further.
Sister. Don't. Please. Wait. Nooo!
Dodging a flying fist as well as his impaired vision would allow, Nightmare slowly, cautiously worked his way closer to her. Touching a hand gently to the girl's shoulder to console her. "She's not here. Alice. Your sister isn't here."
She pulled back sharply in a reflexive bid to escape, nearly shaking him off in the process, until Nightmare tightened his grip. Bringing his free hand up to press a clean handkerchief to her sweat drenched forehead, he soothed the girl softly.
"It's alright, Alice. You're safe here. It's just a nightmare."
She trembled at the touch, eyes wide and unseeing. Her conscious still locked under the safety of her dreamworld even as her lips parroted him silently. '...just... a nightmare.'
"There's no need to be afraid. There's no one else here."
'...just a... nightmare.'
"Now," he urged, easing her back down to her pillow. "Close your eyes and dream of good things this time. Not every dream has to be a bad one."
- . - . - . -
Julius was fit to be tied.
"Idiot!" He rapped his pencil against his clipboard for emphasis. Eyes moving from Alice, lifeless as ever, staring blankly out the window, to where Nightmare sat, hunched defensively in his bedding, Julius growled irritably under his breath before continuing. "Did you not listen when I told you to use the call-button?"
"To be fair... you didn't actually say for-"
"Ow, ow, ow, don't grab!" Yelping as the hand that had previously been occupied by the IV was yanked up roughly for Julius to inspect, Nightmare whined. "I'm injured, remember? Using violence on a valued patient.. it's unprofessional, Clockmaker!"
"Considering that you ripped out your IV yourself, I'm not in an accommodating mood." Satisfied that nothing appeared to be out of order, Julius returned the affronted limb with a disgusted shove. Still, he threatened quietly. "I should have the nurses set you up with a new one just for being troublesome..."
There was a pause of silence until Nightmare pointedly cleared his throat.
Slowly, reluctantly, Julius glanced over at Alice. "She appears to be stable. For now."
"For this condition, she's as normal as she can be." He observed the nurses bustling quietly around the girl – feeding, neatening, medicating – with a critical eye. "I've upped some of her doses. If she's having swings as you've said, that should do a better job of easing her back to reality."
"And?" Nightmare was preening openly now.
"Don't get cocky. You were lucky, that's all." The doctor hissed in irritation and Nightmare's pleased grin was quickly shuttered at the sight of Julius' returned glare. "Next time push the call-button."
- . - . - . -
Nightmare spent the last few minutes of the day reading on his bed, silently counting down the minutes between the end of visitation hours and the beginning of the night shift. When he was sure the last orderly had gone he quietly closed his novel, draped his hospital blanket about his shoulders like a cape, and stealthily crossed the room to sit in the visitor's chair at Alice's bedside.
"They say people in a coma can still hear everything around them, I suppose catatonia can't be that different, can it?" Talking half to himself, Nightmare sighed, scratching a cheek awkwardly as he wondered how to go about doing this before turning, somewhat nervously, to look at the girl sitting vacantly on the bed.
He took a deep, steadying breath.
"Hello Alice... it's nice to meet you. My name is Night. Are you having pleasant dreams this evening?"
- . - . - . -
Medication, as always, was a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, the nurses were ecstatic to finally draw a some semblance of awareness from the near comatose girl. On the other... They were absolutely panic stricken in the face of her screams.
The fit was just as bad as the one he'd calmed her out of before, if not worse. Pleas for her sister were interspersed with babble of clocks and hearts and ticking as Alice shuddered, slipping further away into whatever nightmare her mind had concocted. The thin, plastic curtain surrounding her hospital bed doing nothing to hide the sounds of her sobs as she howled, weeping long and hard before one of the orderlies finally thought to sedate the poor girl.
The nurses offered Nightmare simpering, apologetic smiles as they left. The presiding attendant, as faceless and useless as the rest of them, scraped out a poor excuse for a respectful bow.
"I really must apologize on behalf of Ms. Liddell for disturbing your rest, Mister Gottschalk. It was entirely unexpected that she'd react to the medicine in the way she did. It won't happen again, Sir. I promise."
"No." Nightmare narrowed his eyes, sitting in his bed as tall and proud as a lord in his tower as he watched the group go. "No, it won't happen again."
- . - . - . -
Disgustingly early on the morning of the fifth day, her boyfriend arrived. His suit cleaned and meticulously pressed as he looked in on the girl. His arms occupied by one of the biggest, most garish bundles of red roses that Nightmare had ever had the displeasure of seeing.
He could practically feel the pollen fumes from all the way across the room.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to visit, Alice." The man told the unmoving girl, making a great show of placing the flowers on her bedside table, straightening and arranging until they sat just right. "The University has been extremely busy lately... I got promoted to a full teaching position, did I tell you that? I have missed you though."
Feigning sleep for a while longer, Nightmare watched covertly from beneath his pillow as the man talked, Taking the same chair that Nightmare had used only just the night before, the man pushed the seat closer to the bed, legs scraping noisily against linoleum. Making polite conversation with the air, he soon reached out to stroke one of the girl's hands with his in between anecdotes of classes and campus life.
"...I do wish you would wake up soon." After a half hour or so of small talk, the man straightened, hand still on hers as he squeezed it encouragingly. "I know you were upset about what happened between Lorina and I. But, you're only hurting yourself by being like this. I'd hate to see you waste your life away."
The declaration was kind, gentle, and so utterly unsupportive that Nightmare coughed, ruining his attempted eavesdropping as he was forced to 'wake up'.
"Oh, sorry." The man stood. "I didn't realize that there was someone else here."
Nightmare shrugged, gesturing vaguely between his and Alice's halves of the room in explanation. "Just a roommate."
"Of course." Glancing briefly back to the seemingly lifeless girl on the bed, the man shook his head once, tragically. Then, neatly snapped his jacket back into place, erasing imaginary crinkles with quick pass of his hands over the wool."My apologies if I woke you, I was just leaving, Mister...?"
He extended a hand amicably, waiting for a response. And, despite all logic to the contrary, Nightmare found that he just didn't want to oblige.
"Ah- Achoo..." Sneezing deliberately into his palm, Nightmare gave a soft groan. Then sniffed, wiping his hand carelessly on his blanket before answering. "Ah, sorry 'bout that. Hayfever, you know. It's Night. Night Gottschalk."
Disgust at Nightmare's behavior quickly turned to an awed sort of horror. "Gottschalk?"
"Indeed." Pulling out his handkerchief, Nightmare sneezed again, blowing his nose for good measure as the other man hovered uncertainly in place. And, patience quickly dwindling, Nightmare deemed that he was rather fed up with the direction this conversation and thus decided to end it. Immediately.
So, pulling in a slow deep breath of rose scented air in a way that was guaranteed to afflict his delicate senses, Nightmare coughed. Hard, deep, and wet until-
Spleh. A large splotch of red blossomed in the blanket in front of him.
Hacking in earnest now, Nightmare gagged. Blood spraying out to trickle between his fingers as it dripped slowly and steadily down to the growing puddle on the bedspread. The pale green clovers of the hospital bedding darkening unnaturally as the stain spread.
"I- That-" The man blanched, stumbling over his own feet, before bolting hastily out of the room in search of help. "Nurse! Nurse!"
Knowing he was going to catch Hell from Julius later and, for once, not caring in the slightest bit, Nightmare primly dabbed at the crimson lingering on his lips with a handkerchief. Trying to to feel too smug about the whole thing as he snorted his amusement into the fabric. Idiot...
- . - . - . -
"I thought the Clockmaker said that you were well enough for work." Gray eyed the blood-splattered blankets distastefully. Unconsciously shifting the briefcase in his hands a tad higher as though to protect the documents inside from being ruined by Nightmare through sheer determination.
Nightmare rolled his uncovered eye. He'd only deliberately coughed blood on his paperwork that once. The rest had been entirely accidental.
"It wasn't my fault. I'm sick, remember?" Crossing his arms stubbornly, Nightmare lifted his nose in a pout. "The Clockmaker doesn't know what he's talking about."
"You're well enough." Gray determined. Ignoring the oncoming sulk, he set the briefcase down on the bedside table, flipping golden latches open with his thumbs in a smooth, practiced movement. He handed the first stack of papers over to Nightmare. "I'll have them bring in a tray and a change of sheets so you can get to work."
He turned towards the door, intent on flagging down one of the orderlies.
"Wha-" Nightmare gaped at the papers in his hands, betrayed. "You're going to take Julius' word over the word of your boss? How cruel, Gray!"
"What's truly cruel is the amount of paperwork you've left hanging for your subordinates to deal with while you're here in the hospital, Director." Managing to somehow be both respectful and placating at the same time, Gray gave a pleasant smile. Pausing at the door frame just long enough to summon up a handful of hospital workers, Gray set about instructing them to bring the things Nightmare needed with an impressive efficiency.
Hearing the sharp increase of bustle in the hallway dashed any lingering hopes Nightmare had of escape.
"Uuuh..." He slouched forward in his seat. "I don't feel so good."
"If you wish to vomit please do so away from your paperwork." Came the curt response. "There's not-"
Gray cut himself off, abruptly silent in way that had Nightmare's head popping back up curiously.
"Miss?" Alice's curtains were open."Is there something wro-"
"Wait, Gray." Nightmare took one look at Alice's tear-strewn face and was propelled into action, hastily calling his subordinate off before the well meaning man did the wrong thing.
Scrambling, with some minor difficulty, to find a clean handkerchief, Nightmare shoved his paperwork aside. Throwing off his bedding in the process as he quickly shuffled over to plant himself at Alice's bedside.
"I'm afraid she's not well enough to answer you right now, Gray." Nightmare explained softly, never taking his gaze off the girl as he spoke. Handkerchief in hand, he leaned in. One hand grasping her chin delicately as he moved to dry her tears. Murmuring reassurances to her as he went. "There now. Don't cry Alice. You'll ruin your pretty face. How about you just sit back on your pillows and rest a bit, hm?"
Only after he was done and Alice had been taken care of did Nightmare follow her blank stare to the side.
She had been looking at the roses.
Nightmare pursed him lips in a frown.
"Would you mind getting rid of those?" He tilted his head pointedly to the bouquet, his visible eye hardening almost imperceptibly. "It would seem that neither of us are really fond of roses."
- . - . - . -
It was only after his subordinate had left for the night that Nightmare noticed that the spot formerly occupied by the hideous bouquet of roses now sported a small, stealthily smuggled in, plush toy – a stately, white rabbit in a red overcoat carrying the obligatory 'Get Well Soon!' heart.
Nightmare laughed himself into another coughing fit.
- . - . - . -
That night, her nightmares returned with a vengeance. Seemingly far worse for her encounter with the roses as Alice cried for Lorina. Speaking of guns and knives and shadows until the words blurred together, trapped by a tongue that couldn't form them fast enough.
It took almost three hours for the girl to wear herself out, crying dry, silent tears for her sister. Her voice reduced to little more than a hoarse whisper. All while Nightmare watched helplessly from her bedside.
When Alice finally stopped thrashing, he worked to coax a glass of water into her. Pressing a cup determinedly to her lips, he tipped it back, giving her little bits at a time, until she swallowed reflexively, talking to her as he did so.
"Now, normally the cure for bad dreams is a warm glass of milk or some hot cocoa. But, as we have neither, I'm afraid you'll have to make due with some water tonight, Alice." He told her softly, watching her pale, tear-stained face for any hint of awareness as he sat beside her. "Of course, if you'd like, we could always get a mug of cocoa after you feel comfortable enough to wake up. Gray makes excellent cocoa."
Nightmare paused just long enough to frown.
"...Don't ask him to make you anything else, though. It isn't pretty."
- . - . - . -
"Up to the left... Now, down to the right..."
The penlight wasn't nearly as bad as the last time. Merely a mild irritant as Nightmare moved his gaze according to Julius' commands. He finished the exercise with a blink.
"Well," Julius turned the light off with a sharp click. "I'm shocked to see that you actually seem to be in a state of good health. Your eye appears to be in working order, you haven't coughed up blood for over an hour now, and that cold you've been faking for the last few days subsided a week ago. Well done, Caterpillar."
Tipping his nose indignantly at the sarcasm, Nightmare feigned wounded dignity until another, more pressing thought occurred to him. He tugged pointedly at the eye patch. "Does that mean I can take this off?"
"Yes. And put some real pants on while you're at it." Tossing Nightmare's personal affects in his general direction, Julius snorted softly.
"If you didn't take them in-"
"If we didn't confiscate them you'd have escaped ages ago. Don't deny that you would." Closing Nightmare's file with a snap, Julius turned, stepping away to let the other man put the curtains hastily shut. "We know you too well, Hospital Director Gottschalk."
Nightmare dressed in record time. Feeling faintly victorious despite Julius' verbal jab as he threw open the privacy curtain. Fiddling happily with his cuff links before tucking his handkerchief into his suit.
"Welcome back, I'll let the Skink know where to send the payments."
"Clockmaker, you-" Nightmare started, then stopped. His gaze slowly and inevitably drawn to the girl sitting listlessly on the other side of the room. "Julius?Where's Alice's family."
It wasn't a question. Nightmare had been with the girl almost constantly for just over a week now. Beyond the initial drop off, he hadn't see so much as a 'Get Well' card from her family.
He wanted to know why.
"Her father..." Julius started, then stopped. His voice having hardened sharply in displeasure and he cleared his throat before staring again. "Her father seems to think it would be unhealthy for his youngest to interact with her sister while she's in this state. He sends his best regards and wishes the hospital well in solving Alice's little problem..." The doctor broke off in a low, muffled curse. "...bastard."
Nightmare agreed whole-heartedly.
"It's that kind of behavior that's liable to make her retreat further into herself." Frustrated beyond words, Julius let loose a low grumble. One hand pinching the bridge of his nose, jostling his glasses, as he attempted to regain his composure. After a long moment, he sighed. "...I'm considering rooming her with someone."
"There's no reason to keep her in this room since you're leaving. The orderlies can only be so many places no matter how hard they try. The usual means of monitoring a patient don't really work as well as they should in a case like Alice's – her heart rate is erratic at the best of times – she has a tendency to set the system off randomly." Julius commented, flipping slowly through his clipboard. "But if we place her with someone else, worst case scenario, anyidiot can hit a call-button."
Not sure where this was going, Nightmare nodded slowly.
"While best thing to do would have been placing her in a room with family or someone she's familiar with, that's obviously out due to her family's determined stance of non-involvement. So, the next best thing to do would be to place her in a room with someone who has ties to the hospital or medical training."
"Therefore," Julius glanced pointedly back at his charts. "I have Boris Airay up on the third floor for a broken wrist. Someone we know, someone who's familiar with the hospital staff; and, he sleeps like a cat-"
"Boris?" Nightmare gave a rather undignified gasp. "That little punk Gowland hired to help at the Amusement Park? Him?"
"-if something happened with Alice, he'd wake up for it. And, I have it on good authority that he's had Emergency Response training." Finished Julius, doggedly ignoring the interruption. "I trained Gowland's employees myself."
"...Didn't he dye his hair pink?"
Lowering the clipboard, Julius crossed his arms. The pencil he'd been writing with tapped a slow, irritated rhythm at his bicep.
"Er..." Giving a low cough, Nightmare quickly backtracked. "I'm was merely suggesting..."
"Please, suggest then." The doctor encouraged coolly. "I'm all ears to hear what you have to say, Caterpillar."
Nightmare flinched slightly at the nickname, but refused to be shaken.
"I agree she should have someone with her. But, a broken wrist doesn't need more than a night or so of observation. Alice's case is potentially a lot longer than that. She needs stability." Drawing himself up until he looked every inch the Hospital Director that he was, Nightmare clarified. "She's familiar with me."
And appraising Nightmare silently for a long, measured moment, Julius sighed. Slipping his glasses off entirely this time as he warded of an impending headache. "...The Skink won't be pleased about this."
- . - . - . -
Gray, as it turned out, was actually surprisingly supportive of the whole situation if the growing collection of plush toys lining Alice's bedside table were any indication.
"I don't even know where he's getting half of these." Spreading out the toys on the girl's blanket, he lifted a stuffed orange rabbit up for her approval during one of their evening lulls together. "We have a little shop downstairs for these sorts of things, but we don't have anything as nice as this."
He wiggled the rabbit pointedly, making its ears flop comically about, before chucking it aside in favor of rummaging further through the pile. Shifting aside various soft, fluffy creatures until he found what he was looking for, the one thing he'd picked out himself, Nightmare made a soft triumphant sound and turned to press the toy eagerly into her open palms.
"Here Alice, look at this one. This," he said proudly of the black and white, oddly anteater-looking animal plush now sitting in her hands, "is a Baku."
Though he knew she couldn't respond, Nightmare paused for her all the same. One pale finger moved to poke the stuffed animal.
"Now, let me tell you a little secret about this fellow and dreams. Baku eat dreams – the bad dreams, the scary ones... even the good ones if you're ready to wake up from them." Feeling inordinately pleased with himself, he gave a small, smug chuckle. "Much better than your average teddy bear, isn't it?"
And, watching her hands twitch reflexively around the object he'd given her, he could almost begin to hope that Alice was starting to look at things rather than through them.
- . - . - . -
The first big fit Alice threw after Nightmare had declared his intention to overseer her treatment put most all of the hospital into an uproar. Between his walking out of a Board Meeting and her managing a near, anarchistic shutdown of the chain of command for the entire East wing... it was something that the staff of St. Clover had never seen the like of.
"I'm almost starting to get afraid to see what happens when she wakes up." Hands on hips as he observed the situation, safely, from a distance, Julius shook his head wryly at the sight of Nightmare tending to the shuddering girl. Satisfied that the situation was properly under control, he looked from Nightmare and Gray in turn. "If we're done here, I, at least, intend to go back to work... Page me if the Caterpillar does anything else stupid."
Shifting to let Julius brush past him on his way out the door, Gray nodded curtly before turning to Nightmare. His gaze softened. "I'll take care of the Trustee's, Director Night. Please, take as much time here as you need."
- . - . - . -
Nightmare's evenings at the hospital quickly gained something of a rhythm.
After visiting hours were over, and after his paperwork was done, he would wander through the hospital to Alice's bedside – sitting, reading, talking softly to her for hours as the girl slept or stared vacantly at her darkened room. And, on the bad nights, he'd hush away whatever nightmares haunted her.
Tonight was one of the good nights.
"Urgh... I forgot how gruesome some of these old, fairy tales are." Grimacing, Nightmare flipped past a rather graphic woodcut illustration depicting the fate of Cinderella's stepsisters before thrusting the book aside entirely and grabbing the next one from his stack of reading materials made up of odds and ends from his office and various other books he'd scrounged up from around the hospital. Tonight, he had raided the children's ward for bedtime stories. "Ah, here we go..."
Thus, settling back comfortably in his chair, Nightmare read nursery rhymes as Alice listened. The stuffed Baku doll he'd brought before, seated loosely in her hands and her lips moving ever so slightly as she parroted the lines back to him softly. Her gaze fixed vacantly on the dreamworld only she could ever see.
And, when morning came, as it always did, Nightmare carefully gathered whatever things he'd brought with him, patted Alice gently on the hand in farewell, and wished her sweet dreams.
Alice's lips moved automatically.
"No more nightmares."
- . - . - . -
He was half-way down the hall, sleepily nodding his head in greeting to returning staff as the morning shift began to trickle into the building when he realized what had just happened.
She hadn't been parroting him.
- . - . - . -
"You're sure she spoke? It wasn't just your own overactive imagination?" Contrary to popular belief, Julius did in fact live somewhere other than his office and that, more than anything else, went a long way in explaining his irritation at being jumped upon by Nightmare first thing in the morning.
"I'm sure." Nightmare pressed insistently. "It was only a few words, but they were relevant. Alice was definitely speaking."
"Has she done it again?"
"No, but... Speech, Clockmaker. Alice was speaking. That's a good, isn't it?"
Slowly shrugging on his lab coat as he considered this, Julius finally acquiesced with a slow, reluctant nod. "..It is a positive sign. I'll come check in on her as soon as I've got my files."
"Excellent!" Rocking back eagerly on his heels as the doctor got his things in order, Nightmare beamed.
"Her family should be informed as well."
"After all," Julius continued, leaning over to retrieve his clipboard and a stack of paperwork from a desk drawer. "If there's any chance of her waking, they might make an effort to come visit her. Or, at least start to consider what they'd like to do once she's well enough to go home."
The silence on Nightmare's part lasted just a touch too long.
Materials in hand, Julius straightened, fixing the man with a stern stare over the rim of his glasses as his expression hardened ever so slightly.
"You're getting too attached, Caterpillar." The doctor said bluntly, his eyes narrowed. "As soon as she steps out of her delusions to start living in this world again, Alice's time here ends."
"I know that." The words were a bit too defensive and unusually harsh sounding in the quiet room, but Nightmare repeated them for emphasis, softer this time. "I know that."
"...I'll leave it to you to see that her family is informed." Nightmare said finally, drawing himself up to turn curtly on his heel for the door. "I'll let the staff know what's going on. If Alice is being more active they should be told as well."
- . - . - . -
When he finally got down to examine her, Julius's findings on Alice were largely inconclusive. Her reactions to light and sound were still delayed or almost nonexistent. Her blood tests registered at normal levels. Nothing that could prove that she had spoken just a few hours before.
But then, living or living were hard, indeterminate things to be testing for.
And, some time later, standing in the doorway, Nightmare met the latest scene of hysteria at Alice's bedside with mixed feelings. A small frown on his lips as he watched the nurses fuss ineffectively for a few moments before letting his presence be known. Nightmare straightened.
The response was immediate as the staff jumped to attention.
"I'm so sorry to disturb your day, Director Gottschalk I was only trying to take it from her for a moment to help her clean up. But she just started screaming." One of the nurses stepped forward, shuffling in place nervously as he spoke. He glanced worriedly from Nightmare back towards the sobbing girl and the small, black and white stuffed animal clutched desperately in her hands. "I didn't realize that-"
"It's fine." Nightmare waved a hand dismissively. "I'll take care of it from here."
The remaining nurses, still lingering around the edges of the room, immediately bowed out at the unspoken order.
And, for the first time since he had started looking after Alice, Nightmare stepped past the chair at her bedside to seat himself familiarly on the side of her bed. Watching her intently as he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Still having nightmares, Alice?" He inquired softly. Gratified more than he probably should be by the fact that her shaking stopped almost immediately at his touch, but unable to tear himself away all the same. He gently prodded the toy in her hands. "Let me tell you another secret about dreams..."
- . - . - . -
"Dreams are terrifying because there's an end... but that doesn't mean that reality always has to be terrifying."
- . - . - . -
Nightmare hit the room in a panicked run, nearly tripping in his haste to wrench open the door. His normally pale face flushed with exertion as he clung to the door frame in an attempt to catch his breath. He wheezed franticly. "She's awake?"
And, slowly, slowly, slowly, Alice blinked. Turning her head awkwardly on muscles that were still unused to proper motion as she stared at him in confusion. Her eyes shone a bright, intelligent aqua, even as her mouth struggled to form the words she was searching for.
"Do I know you?"
And, suddenly realizing how foolish he must look, Nightmare gave a start. Subtly attempting to tuck the flyaway bits of his hastily thrown together appearance into something a bit more properly presentable, he straightened.
"No." He smiled gently. "Not yet. But, I know you very well, Alice."